Promises by China that its port project in Cameroon would bring an economic revival to the region have fallen short. “Villagers were very optimistic when they heard about the harbor project. We hoped it would bring jobs and improve our lives,” said Theodore Ivaha, Lolabe’s vice village chief, according to Deutsche Welle (DW). ”But for the last couple of years we have just gotten more angry because we are not profiting at all.”
“The government should actually mediate between residents and foreign companies, informing them of the wishes and needs of the locals, helping foreign organizations and companies to foster development,” investigative journalist Christophe Bobiokono told DW. “But many governments in Africa simply fail at that task, so companies cannot count on them.”
The Export-Import Bank of China is funding an estimated 85 percent of $1.3 billion budget for the new harbor project with the state-run China Harbor Engineering Corporation (CHEC) charged with overseeing construction.
Cameroon’s government is financing the remaining 15 percent. The African country is hopeful that the project will boost its economy. However, Beijing “has its eye on nearby iron reserves, which are to be connected to new road and rail infrastructure,” notes DW.
The primary goal of the project is to transform the Cameroonian city of Kribi into to the most massive seaport in central Africa. However, the village of Lolabe had to be destroyed to clear land for the port. Although Cameroon’s Prime Minister Philemon Yang had approved about $44 million to compensate Lolabe villagers forced out of their homes, only $27 million has been paid out. “The other [$17 million] is alleged to have been embezzled by corrupt politicians,” reports DW.
Furthermore, the state-run Chinese company in charge of construction has rarely given jobs to locals, instead hiring from other parts of Cameroon. “Most people in the region, and especially those from villages directly neighboring the harbor, simply do not have the qualifications required to fill them,” explains DW. “Villagers waited in vain for the head of [state-run] CHEC to visit them in an effort to fill positions—something that is regular practice among French companies operating in the country. But it didn’t happen.”
Locals accuse many of the Cameroonians working on the project of having “stolen” their jobs, allegations that may end up sparking clashes between the two groups. While those who are working complain about the working conditions, “Chinese supervisors have derided the locals’ poor work ethic,” notes DW. The estimated 300 Chinese workers in the village keep themselves separated from the locals, refusing to buy local products to stimulate the economy.
They “reside in a closed camp at the harbor, with living quarters, offices, a cafeteria and a Chinese cook,” reports DW. “They rarely leave, and there is little if any contact with locals. Local products, contrary to all prior hopes, are largely shunned by the Chinese workers.” China has intensified its investment in Africa in recent years while the United States lags behind, providing only aid to the continent.